After hosting a pair of successful pop-up arcades at a Richmond brewery, a group of local pinball enthusiasts is making a push to fund and find a permanent home.
The Richmond Pinball Collective, a five-person group that has held two pop-up arcades at Hardywood Park Craft Brewery since forming about a year ago, is about halfway through a crowdfunding campaign to create a dedicated pinball arcade in Richmond.
The group has raised just over $5,000 from more than 70 backers on Kickstarter and is well on its way to the $7,000 goal it hopes to reach by Nov. 9, when the campaign will end. The money would be used to lease a space for about 10 to 20 machines that would be loaned by collectors, said the collective’s Clark Fraley.
“We have a lack of places publicly to play pinball,” said Fraley, who works as a regional route supervisor for Tricorp Amusements, a coin-operated game supplier with a hub in Fredericksburg.
“There are a lot of other cities in the U.S. that have a very vibrant pinball scene and lots of machines in different bars and restaurants for public consumption, and we just don’t have a lot of that here,” he said. “We felt like it’d be nice to have a place where you can play a lot of different machines under one roof.”
Fraley, 40, said Richmond has a strong community of pinball enthusiasts – or “pinheads” as they call themselves – who play at collectors’ private game rooms and in two local leagues: the River City Flippers and Balls of Steel. But he said local support beyond those groups was evidenced in the turnout at the pop-up arcades at Hardywood, held in January and this month.
“I knew there was interest in the enthusiast community, but I wanted to see what kind of mass appeal there might be,” Fraley said. “We had about 21 machines total in their barrel room, and the place was elbow-to-elbow from the minute the door opened to the minute the door closed. It was insanity. So that was a good sign.”
Fraley said the appeal of pinball is its combination of control and unpredictability.
“There’s an element of control and an element of the unknown, as far as what that ball is going to do,” he said. “It’s all governed by physics, but that’s where it ends.
“Even though you have the same rule set, the same layout physically of where the flippers are – where the ramps are, the targets – if you hit that ball with the flipper in a slightly different place, it’s going to go somewhere slightly different. It makes it a different game each time that way.”
If its funding goal is reached, Fraley said the group will be on the hunt for a space to lease in the neighborhood of 1,000 square feet. He said they’re eyeing Scott’s Addition, as well as Manchester, and would need a space that can accommodate or be upfitted to handle the level of electricity that the machines require.
He said the hope is to open the place and start flipping within six months. While he acknowledged some places with a good number of machines – Center of the Universe Brewing Company in Ashland, for one – Fraley said the arcade would fill the void that some have described as Richmond’s “pinball desert.”
“There’s a lot of great home game rooms people have where these pinball leagues in town exist and live,” he said. “I think there is something there where we can make a public location that would be sort of a mecca for local pinball here in Richmond.”